Farewell, Massey Hall: Where have all the good beers gone?

Photo: David Ort

There are a lot of things to celebrate in Ontario’s craft beer scene. The selection has grown immensely in the past twenty years and so has the diversity of the people brewing professionally. One white-knuckled finger at a time, we’re prying the industrial brewers’ grip off our retail system, and many great beer bars have opened, but we still have a way’s to go when it comes to licensed bars and restaurants.

Too often, I walk into a bar to find that the token specialty option is a quasi-craft brew made by a front for Molson or Labatt. Or, if it’s actual craft, it’s a pilsner or lagered ale that is almost never as fresh as it should be because the on-site marketing pushes it way out of view.

The prognosis is even worse if you’re in a space meant for live music. The naming rights to one of Toronto’s most significant outdoor music venues are owned by one of the world’s most significantly tasteless beers.

Massey Hall is certainly the best live music venue in Toronto—arguably in all of Canada. From Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to the Tragically Hip and Feist, this is the stage to be on.

As a beer venue, Massey earns a solid C.

Great Lakes Canuck is the bright spot in the beer lineup at Massey, and for that matter at many entertainment venues. Photo
Great Lakes Canuck is the bright spot in the beer lineup at Massey, and for that matter at many entertainment venues. Photo: David Ort

First, the positive: They have Great Lakes’ Canuck in the downstairs bar. This is consistently one of the best APAs in Ontario, it’s available widely (so if someone tries it here for the first they’re likely to find it closer to home) and the branding makes sense for the great hall of Canadian music. Another plus is that they’ve made an effort to not take a buyout from the industrial brewers—there’s no Molson Canadian or Labatt Blue anywhere in sight.

Unfortunately, it’s mainly drowned out by a wave of Ace Hill. On a couple of occasions, just to see what would happen, I’ve asked what beers they have. “We have three from Ace Hill. The pilsner, Vienna and the light.”

“Is that it?”

“Oh yeah, we also have Canuck.”

Naturally, the beer menu is on an Ace-branded board and the back bar is plastered in neon signs for my least favourite contract-brewed beer.

Massey Hall will close this summer for a two-year renovation. I hope we see space made for better beer (and food) as part of the revitalization. Free time is precious and we shouldn’t have to choose between good music or good food.

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